Perennialism: Overview & Practical Teaching Examples - Video & Lesson Transcript |

Perennialism: Overview & Practical Teaching Examples

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Perennialism states that the ideas taught in schools should be evergreen and everlasting. Explore an overview of perennialism, discover the impact of evergreen ideas, assess the Great Conversation, and review practical teaching examples. Updated: 10/07/2021


Sita is very excited. She's a teacher, and her principal has just asked her to plan her school's curriculum for next school year. It's a great honor; it shows that her principal has faith that Sita knows what should be taught!

But what, exactly, should Sita choose for the curriculum? Some people believe that the school should be teaching the classics, like Shakespeare and Darwin. Others think it's important to look at newer, less classic figures and learn from them.

Perennialism in education is the idea that school curricula should focus on what is everlasting. You can remember the word 'perennialism' by remembering that perennial means lasting for many years. Thus, perennialism is focused on things that have lasted for many years.

Let's look closer at perennialism and how Sita might use it in her curriculum planning.

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  • 0:01 Perennialism
  • 0:52 Evergreen Ideas
  • 2:40 The Great Conversation
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Evergreen Ideas

One of the cornerstones of perennialism is the concept of evergreen ideas, or philosophies that last through many generations. Think of the old adage, 'All's fair in love and war.' Whether you believe that it's true or not, it's been around a long time, and many people have explored it in different ways.

To create a perennialist curriculum, Sita will want to focus on evergreen ideas and avoid fads and other new ideas. In other words, she'll want to stick with what's tried and true. The way that an evergreen lasts all year round (and for many, many years), evergreen ideas last a long time and are applicable to many people through many generations.

For example, in social studies, Sita might want to focus on big, evergreen ideas of democracy; that is, things like human rights, educating voters, and things like that. Voting machines and drones may be new issues faced by humans today, but they are tied to the same ideals that our grandparents and great-grandparents faced, things like national security versus privacy, or voting rights for all. So instead of talking about drones in social studies, Sita will want the school to look at how the founding fathers balanced personal rights with national security.

Because perennialism is so focused on evergreen ideas, Sita should make the most of the curriculum about evergreen ideas. That way, students are learning what their grandparents learned. The belief is that ideas that have stood the test of time have proven themselves to be worthy of study. Newfangled concepts might add something to the curriculum, but they may not. Why not just stick with what Sita knows will work because it's worked for generations before?

The Great Conversation

As we've already said, perennialism is focused on teaching things that are applicable to many generations. It will probably come as no surprise, then, that the classics, or a canon of books written long ago, are a big part of a perennialist curriculum.

Instead of reading modern writers and philosophers, Sita will want to design her perennialist curriculum around classical writers, like Homer, Shakespeare, and Locke. She'll want to avoid writers who have written in the last generation or two, and focus, instead, on those who wrote hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago.

Why are the classics such a big part of perennialism? There are two main ideas about the classics in perennialism:

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